In a study of 10,000+ tech workers who went remote, researchers found that work hours increased by 30%, but productivity fell by 20%. The findings suggested that communication costs increased dramatically during the pandemic. Why?
My hypothesis is that we are still thinking about synchronous work in a distributed world. The tools that we've built demand real-time responses: Zoom, Slack, calls. Any engineer knows that high-performance systems are necessarily asynchronous and batched. These systems prioritize ruthlessly. Real-time communication constantly pulls us in different directions. When everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.
Asynchronous communication gives the power back to the individual. It gives the chance for workers to focus and find uninterrupted time for deep work. Urgency now exists on a spectrum. E-mail has always been the async medium; "this meeting could have been an email". But the pandemic has shown us that e-mail is not nearly enough.
Startups are improving async communication in three dimensions: fidelity, flexibility, and functionality.
First, async communication has historically been text-based (do people still use voicemail?). Loom is making it simple to record videos for coworkers, that both capture institutional knowledge as well as provide an async way to communicate over video.
And finally, startups like Notion are increasing functionality across existing workflows. Information that would have been buried in emails or wikis is now organized in Notion workspaces.
Whatever the solution ultimately is, distributed workers are going to need to right tools to realize their efficiencies.